A Christmas of Change

By Blake Daly, FC 17 Syracuse

SYR Christmas 2015

One of the great things about the FrancisCorps program so far has been experiencing the Advent season with my community.  Five individuals, all with different ideas of what makes Christmas special to them, living in the same house.  Each one of us with different family traditions, meals, songs and everything in-between, from when is an appropriate time to start listening to Christmas music (apparently for some it is November 15th) to whether or not we should get a ‘real’ Christmas tree or use the artificial tree in the closet.  These traditions are important and are what make Christmas meaningful for so many of us.  They are amazing reminders of home and are difficult to let go of.

While these differences could be overwhelming and stressful for some, we were able to laugh at our differences and see Christmas traditions from another side.  As a new family and community of believers, we have been able to try out each others’ traditions and share the best from each of our families.  Getting to share the Advent season in a Christian community has been an enlightening experience and has made our traditions seem funny and manageable all because Christ has been at the centre of our hearts and minds.  This focus on Christ has made all of the difference.

Along with our own traditions at home, Christmas has made me realize that we have been blessed with being welcomed into a number of different communities throughout Syracuse. This became evident when we were sending out the Christmas cards that we made to all of those that we have met so far. The number of different communities in Syracuse and the quality of the friendships that I have formed with all of these groups has been absolutely amazing.

From our friends serving in the Jesuit Volunteer Program and the Jesuit Novices up at LeMoyne who know how to have a good time and help keep our mission youthful and optimistic.  To the number of parents in the community who bring us desserts and motherly check-ins whenever they have a chance offering us a constant reminder of our parents at home.  To all of our co-workers who keep us focused on our mission while guiding us in our professional lives and also all of those that we serve who allow us into their lives on a daily basis. To the Sisters of St. Francis who are models of Christ’s love, living out their faith as active neighbors always encouraging and moving us forward.  And of course the Friars who have literally taken us into their home and who constantly bring laughter and joy wherever they go.  All of these communities have completely blown my mind and have filled me with confidence for the future of the Church.

Spending the Advent season within our many new communities has truly opened my eyes to the real meaning of Christmas.  New family and friends coming together with all of their past traditions and ideas of how to celebrate these holidays, renewed and changed by the child who is born into our midst and into our community.

Looking deeper into the complexity of the everyday…

By Johanna Cajina, FC 17 Costa Ricanino-3.jpg

Whenever my community members and I meet new Costa Ricans for the first time, their first question is usually, So do you like my country? While all four of us reply in unison with a very cheerful and firm, Yes, I always nervously await their next question. With some of the most beautiful natural scenery all around us, others might have difficulties narrowing down their favorite place here in Costa Rica. In my case, I have known the answer to this question since our first week, yet I am always skeptical in sharing it with others.

My favorite spot is where I catch my 9:10 a.m. bus every morning to work. There is no scenic view of the mountains that surround Alajuela or any historical monuments. On the contrary, it is the very opposite of what one might consider their preferred spot in the city. Here, only three main things stand out; a street that leads to downtown, a small park with benches to wait for the buses, and a cemetery across the street. When I sit down on the concrete benches of the park, I feel part of Costa Rica. The main street is always buzzing with street vendors, car horns, buses going to near and distant places in Alajuela, school girls gossiping, people running, and others just going on with their day. You just can’t help but be eternally grateful, and at times in disbelief, for the opportunity to learn about and to be part of this culture on a daily basis.

Despite feeling so in tune with the Costa Rican culture, the main street divides the park from the General Cemetery of Alajuela. One of my community members, Erin, once shared with us that here they bury the homeless, the unclaimed, or simply those with no resources to buy a burial plot. Then after five years, they are exhumed to make space for others, and are reburied in a common grave. Such visible contrasts of life and death, or riches and poverty, are all around me. As I continue to reflect on the emotions of powerlessness that these disparities create in me, I am reminded of the first lines Henri Nouwen’s book Gracias. He dedicates it to, “Those who bear witness of the suffering Christ in Latin America.” In my experiences so far, the suffering Christ is multifaceted as He can take up the form of street beggars to even the girls at my worksite. Sometimes, I wish that I didn’t have to see the suffering Christ everyday.

Yet, as we begin this new Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are called to do the exact opposite. We are called to not turn away and ignore the poor, but rather to live out that mercy every day. We have been reminded that for the next year, and hopefully beyond that, we must show love, kindness and generosity to those we encounter. FrancisCorps has already laid the foundation for us to constantly seek this mercy and for those of us serving in Costa Rica and Syracuse, we could not have asked for a more appropriate invitation than to reflect on how to show compassion in our work sites, communities, and beyond.

Who Am I Actually Serving?

By Ana Thesing, FC 17 Syracuseimg_0710.jpg

Shortly after settling into the routines of our worksite, community time, and living in Syracuse, my community and I ventured out to find the local library. While we were there, we did all the normal things like signup for library cards, browse the book racks, and of course took a group selfie to document the occasion. One book that I found while looking around was a book arranged by Lucinda Vardey called Mother Teresa – A Simple Path. I started to read this book before I went to bed each night and one night I came across this message:

“Do we look to the poor with compassion? They are hungry for food; they are hungry to be recognized as human beings. They are hungry for dignity and to be treated as we are treated. They are hungry for our love.” -Mother Teresa

This particular passage struck a chord in me because of the work that I am doing in Syracuse. My ministry worksite is at the Assumption Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen, which allows me the opportunity to directly work with the poor and marginalized. I see some of the same clients each day- they’re poor, hungry, cold, dirty, and desire more in their life. It is easy for me to hand them a sandwich and cookie and wish them well, but I’ve quickly learned that I would just be taking the easy way out if that’s all I did. They desire more than the food they come for each day.

When I found out that I would be working at the soup kitchen and food pantry, I thought that I would be making an impact on others’ lives by giving them food each day. What I didn’t realize was that each and every single person that I have met through my work at the food pantry and soup kitchen has impacted my life a great deal. Each day I see what it looks like to have a rock solid faith when you have nothing else. I have learned what it looks like to keep your head up high when everything is in shambles around you. Although I know that the work I am doing in Syracuse is impacting the members of the community around me, I have changed my outlook on why I am doing what I do here. I am called to love these strangers like they are my brothers and sisters. I am called to give them the dignity and respect that I wish to receive from everyone I encounter, which isn’t always an easy thing to do.

Mother Teresa’s words are an encouraging reminder each and every day that I am not only called to give food to those that are poor. I am learning that food will fill the void of hunger, but won’t come close to filling the desire to be loved. I can start by learning a name here and there, keeping that name in my heart, and looking at that person for who they are rather than the uncombed hair I see and the dirt on their clothes. I have learned that I am doing this work because God is teaching me how to live out the Gospel through the people I am serving. I only use words when it’s necessary.